You can buy cheap ice cream by the gallon; premium ice cream comes in cute little expensive quart containers. What’s so special about the expensive stuff? One essential difference is that cheaper ice creams tend to have more air whipped into them—the term for this is “overrun”—while the premium ice creams tend to be denser, says babette feasts.

“Some manufacturers take a quart of base and churn it into a quart and a half, others will churn it into a half gallon,” she says. “Same amount of product, different amounts of air.” Premium ice creams have more butterfat (and also more fat and more calories) per ounce than cheaper, aerated ice creams. So you have to choose: Do you want ethereally light ice cream that melts away instantly in your mouth, or rich, heavy ice cream that sticks around for a moment?

Querencia explains the difference in quality this way: “To me the luxurious quality in more expensive ice cream is that it is smeary rather than puffy. When you smear it with your spoon against the dish, it doesn’t fluff.”

Jon Snyder, founder of NYC’s Il Laboratorio del Gelato, would call that fluff “feathering,” and would say it’s a sign the ice cream’s too airy. For more on ideal ice cream qualities, see CHOW’s “How to Judge Ice Cream.”

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